Voyages of Body and Soul: Selected Female Icons of India and Beyond includes scholarly essays and performance/choreographic notes from a diverse range of contributors on the themes of “Mad and Divine: India’s Female Saint-Poets” and “Epic Women of India and Beyond.” The contributors explore the tendency of patriarchal societies to label exceptional saint-poets yearning for the divine as “mad” because of their resistance to normative and acceptable female behavior. Scholars and performers journey across history, with discussions ranging from the 8th century Tamil mystic poet Andal’s divine poetry, to the 16th century saint-poet Meerabai, to figures across the Indian subcontinent, including Kashmir’s Lalleshwari and Maharashtra’s Janabai, who, as a low caste member, joined the sacred path partly to escape caste oppression.
The definition of “epic women” in this volume is multi-faceted: from looking at commonly accepted epic figures, such as the iconic Sita from The Ramayana, to examining epic women in politics, to probing dark women with passions of epic proportions, to legendary teachers of the classical dance style of bharatanatyam, to women with monumental courage and creativity across historical time-periods and geographical locations – Ancient Greece, Ancient India, 20th century Mexico, and Myanmar.
Voyages of Body and Soul recognizes creative and courageous female saint-poets, and outspoken women in ancient epics and in contemporary times who follow their chosen paths with deep devotion. Their lives and works are models for the human community in the 21st century.
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Dr Ketu H. Katrak, originally from Bombay, is Professor in the Department of Drama at the University of California, Irvine, and specializes in drama, dance, performance theory, and postcolonial literature. Dr Katrak is the author of Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora (2011); Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers (2006); Wole Soyinka and Modern Tragedy: A Study of Dramatic Theory and Practice (1986); and essays in journals such as Amerasia and South Asian Popular Culture. Dr Katrak is the recipient of a Fulbright Research Award to India (2005–06), a University of California, Humanities Research Institute Fellowship (2002), a Bunting Fellowship (1988–89; Harvard/ Radcliffe), among other awards, and is currently on the Fulbright Senior Specialist roster (2010–2015).Dr Anita R. Ratnam, based in Chennai, India, is highly respected as a performer, writer, speaker and arts entrepreneur and culture mentor. Her career has spanned four decades, with over 1000 performances in 27 countries, and intersects the varied disciplines of dance, theatre, storytelling, feminist themes, arts production, music, and costume design. Dr Ratnam’s Neo Bharatam repertoire distills the classical dance traditions of her Bharatanatyam training with a focus on ritual traditions reinterpreted for the modern concert stage. Using voice, singing, Vedic hymns, drumming, contemporary mythology and devised movements, her various choreographies include Seven Graces, MA3KA, A Million Sitas and Neelam. Dr Ratnam is a member of the Executive Board of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and the ICCR, India’s Government panel to select performers for international tour, and is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a voting member of the Dance Critics Association, USA.